Just Understanding is OK: Psalm 137

Israelites in Captivity

 1 By the rivers in Babylon we sat and cried 
       when we remembered Jerusalem.
 2 On the poplar trees nearby 
       we hung our harps.
 3 Those who captured us asked us to sing; 
       our enemies wanted happy songs. 
       They said, “Sing us a song about Jerusalem!” 

 4 But we cannot sing songs about the Lord 
       while we are in this foreign country! 
 5 Jerusalem, if I forget you, 
       let my right hand lose its skill.
 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth 
       if I do not remember you, 
    if I do not think about Jerusalem 
       as my greatest joy. 

 7 Lord, remember what the Edomites did 
       on the day Jerusalem fell. 
    They said, “Tear it down! 
       Tear it down to its foundations!” 

 8 People of Babylon, you will be destroyed. 
       The people who pay you back for what you did to us will be happy. 
 9 They will grab your babies 
       and throw them against the rocks.

When you get to this Psalm, you need to grip the idea that there is a revolving link. There is something that makes you swirl back to verse 1. It’s a link that brings us from the end to the beginning. A certain revolution that seems circular. When we get to the end of this psalm, we are shunted back to the beginning. There is a certain connection that takes us into a spiritual connection, and then demands we reconnect and do it all over again.

I suppose that we hate the idea.  We start, and then insist on a conclusion, we like to be tidy, and somehow we think completeness makes us spiritual.  But in 137, we discover we are a loop, in this sense. We read it over and over, but honest believers, but we can’t grip onto a true discipleship.

Commentary

VV. 1-2 establishes certain things. There is a kind of nostalgia here. A powerful sadness is acknowledged. Desperation is the theme of this moment. Memories can be good, and yet be savagely painful. The viciousness of all of this makes us act in strange ways. We hang our harps up on the trees. We don’t want anything to do with life in captivity. There is a bitterness in this new world of slavery.

V. 3,  there will be an awful antagonism, and those who order us about have no idea. Pain is afflicted by ‘their’ falseness. Undoubtedly, this isn’t intentional, and they seem so sincere, but savagely brutal. Perhaps might does make right, in seems so in this case.

V. 4 bring us issues of a self-recognition. What Babylon asks from us, is simply not possible. It is not within us to sing in captivity.

V. 5, is a reasonable declaration. There is an intense connection between a man’s religion and all that he is. What marks us at the start, identifies us at the end. You could say, “we are who we have always been.”

V. 6 is a very certain concept. It has to deal with, of “what could be.” The reader has to keep the orientation right. So much seems “airborne.” Completely in flux. But that’s ok.

V.7, has a residual awareness of a deep wounding that happened in the past. The ugliness and pain will continue to be acknowledged. Whether the past will keep being understood is completely up to us.

V. 8 is actually an understanding of a certain action against what is so evil. Nothing escapes, or can even be rationalized. We take the things that come to us, and there is a certain awareness of a “right & wrong” that simply can’t be diminished or reduced. It is now “locked in.”

V. 9 carries something quite tragic and immensely sad.  I won’t push this too much. The pain of such happenings carries an ugly and vicious sadness. There is far too much grief here. The slaughter of innocents, is brutal and difficult. Perhaps the inclusion of this, has come as a result of all that has happened out of the terrible pain of seeing this happen to themselves. Grief has many funny ways as it is absorbed, but that will never make it easy.

And now we cycle back to verse 1. We are brought through all of this. We start over, and then over again. None of us, will ever get complete answers. But I guess that this is ok.

bry-signat (1)

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Psalm 137: 1–6: Discipline That Brings a Harvest of Righteousness

psalm137-400

Psalm 137

1 Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
    as we thought of Jerusalem.
2 We put away our harps,
    hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
3 For our captors demanded a song from us.
    Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn:
    “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
4 But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a pagan land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget how to play the harp.
6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
    if I fail to remember you,
    if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.

7 O Lord, remember what the Edomites did
    on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem.
“Destroy it!” they yelled.
    “Level it to the ground!”

In the background of this psalm, the children of Israel in 586 BC have been led into captivity to Babylon because of their obstinate rebellion and idolatry against the Lord. Their captors are taunting them by asking them to sing songs of Zion in a foreign land but this they cannot do. They are reaping what they sowed and are being disciplined by the Lord through their bondage in Babylon.

This is probably familiar territory for those of us who have walked with the Lord for several  years. Of the many trials that we endure in this life, at least some of them are the discipline of the Lord. At one time or another we all get taken to God’s woodshed. Here are some helpful guidelines to help us while we are in the disciplining process:

(1) Israel endured discipline during this time because they were the chosen people of God; we endure discipline because we are his beloved sons and daughters. Discipline reveals our identity. Hebrews 12:8 goes so far as to say that if we are not disciplined, then we are “illegitimate children and not true sons.”

(2) Discipline in not an end–in–itself; the purpose of discipline is restoration and reconciliation. This is why Israel would not let themselves forget Jerusalem because it represented home and the restoration of their fortunes. Again, Hebrews 12:11 tells us that discipline will produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

It’s interesting to note that Israel had its own harvest of righteousness: after their exile in Babylon, there is strong evidence that the problem of foreign gods was never a widespread problem again for many years.

(3) While you are going through the discipline of the Lord, expect demonic opposition to increase in your life. Notice how Israel is tormented by their captors in verse 3. The Edomites also encouraged Babylon to do great harm to Jerusalem during the fall of Jerusalem.

The greatest strategy of the devil is this: convince the believer being disciplined that they are so defective and have sinned so greatly that they are not worthy of God’s tender mercies. This is a lie: his mercies endure forever. Remember Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren.”

(4) How much better it is to be disciplined now in this life, and be purified than to have to stand before Christ, without having gone through the Refiner’s Fire. Our weeping will endure for the night (this present life) but joy will come in the morning (eternity).

If you liked this post by Jonathan, you may also like his book ,Letters from Fawn Creek, that is available at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

 

ybic, Jonathan